During February 2023, Stena Line confirmed that its 42 year old multipurpose ferry, STENA EUROPE, was to be replaced on the Fishguard to Rosslare service by a considerably younger vessel, STENA NORDICA. The Nordica had already arrived for rebuilding and refurbishment work in Poland the previous month to make her more suitable for her new role.
Despite life extension work during 2019, STENA EUROPE has continued to suffer from reliability issues and offers a very dated passenger experience compared to the rest of the Stena Line Irish Sea fleet. With the introduction of STENA NORDICA, Stena Line hopes to address these problems.
The STENA NORDICA is no stranger to the Irish Sea, having been purpose-built for P&O Irish Sea for services between Great Britain and Ireland. Originally delivered as the EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR in December 2000, her P&O career was short and the ship was sold to Stena during 2004.
Since then, STENA NORDICA has proven herself to be a very flexible and capable vessel, having served routes as diverse as the 90 minute Dover to Calais crossing on charter to DFDS and Stena Line’s lengthy 21.5 hour Travemunde to Liepaja route.
As-built, STENA NORDICA had capacity for up to 450 passengers and crew. During her 2023 rebuild this has been expanded to 699 passengers and crew. This was achieved by adding an additional accommodation block on her uppermost passenger level, deck 6, and reconfiguring the existing accommodation. New larger passenger lifts have also been installed, and lift access is now available to all passenger decks.
A comprehensive refurbishment of the passenger accommodation has taken place. The dark wood laminated walls favoured by P&O in the early 2000’s are gone and the ship has been refurbished in a similar modern Scandinavian style to that seen in Stena Line’s latest E-Flexer ferries. This gives the vessel a much more spacious and airy feel.
Stena Nordica’s refurbished passenger facilities – Deck 4
STENA NORDICA’s main passenger deck remains deck 4. The 14 passenger cabins retained during STENA NORDICA’s last major refurbishment, during 2009, remain, but the five on the port side are now pet-friendly cabins.
The Trucker’s restaurant towards forward on the port side – providing seats for around 70 drivers – remains unaltered.
The largest passenger space is the new Taste branded restaurant which occupies the entire space previously taken by both the restaurant and the bar prior to 2023. This has been finished in a similar style to the Taste restaurants on Stena Line’s E-Flexer ferries and offers tables for groups of two to eight. The removal of bulkheads and the previous bar makes the combined area much more capacious to what went before.
The Living Room
On STENA NORDICA, the Living Room occupies the space which previously housed Stena Plus. The area has been opened up and is now largely open plan to the main corridor running along the starboard side of the ship. This has allowed natural light into the corridor and also created a more spacious feeling.
Onboard (Duty Free) shop
The onboard shop is now significantly larger than previously on STENA NORDICA with a footprint that uses the space of the old shop as well as the former children’s play area and part of the midships lobby.
During our domestic crossing between Belfast and Scotland no Duty Free items were available, but this space will be filled with Duty Free alcohol and cigarettes, as well as the usual gifts and perfume, when STENA NORDICA is in service between Wales and Ireland.
The onboard shop has been finished in a similar style to the shops onboard Stena’s E-Flexer ferries with floor to ceiling glass windows facing out into the corridors alongside the space.
Guest services has been relocated to the port side of the main lobby on STENA NORDICA as a result of the extra space now taken up by the shop. Previously, guest services had been located in the centre of the lobby.
Social Café and Bar
Stena Line has introduced a new cafe/bar concept on STENA NORDICA, the Social Café and Bar. While similar to the Barista-based Sky Bar onboard the E-Flexer ferries, Social introduces a new colour scheme.
Social Café and Bar occupies a space that previously housed a very dated looking reclining seat lounge and sits just ahead of the 14 cabins which make up the rest of deck 4.
Drivers Lounge / Truckers
Commercial drivers can enjoy a meal and relax away from other passengers in the Drivers Lounge. This area presently remains unchanged from pre rebuild.
Two outside decks, one on either side of deck 4, are accessible to all passengers onboard STENA NORDICA. An additional outside deck space is also provided on deck 6.
Stena Nordica’s refurbished passenger facilities – Deck 6
The passenger spaces on deck 6 are almost entirely new, with only the outside deck space and stairwells having previously existed on the vessel. The new passenger module, which was fitted in the space previously occupied by a helipad, incorporates a Stena Plus lounge, Hygge reclining seat lounge, two movie lounges, and toilet facilities. The deck is now also served by a lift meaning STENA NORDICA’s passenger decks are all now fully accessible.
The brand-new Stena Plus premium lounge on STENA NORDICA has capacity for 96 passengers and is styled similarly to the plus lounges on Stena Line’s E-Flexer ferries. In common with the other Stena Plus lounges on Stena’s Irish Sea ferries, passengers can help themselves to complimentary snacks, a large range of hot and cold soft drinks and wine.
Hygge Reclining Seat Lounge
While the colour scheme in STENA NORDICA’s Hygge lounge is similar to that on other vessels in Stena’s Irish Sea fleet, Stena has provided 42 adjustable reclining seats instead of the fixed reclined seats found elsewhere in the fleet. Two large TV screens are placed to the front of the lounge, and passengers can plug headphones into a socket located to the side of the headrest on their seat.
Two 14 seat movie lounges occupy the space on the starboard side opposite the Hygge lounge.
Each of these lounges shows a different movie and is accessible to all passengers free of charge.
A large outside deck space is also available on deck 6. A pet toilet is also provided here for the use of passengers who have brought their pets along on their journey. Picnic tables are provided for passengers who would like to sit down while taking in some fresh sea air.
While not normally accessible to passengers, NI Ferry Site was given access to the navigational bridge during our return crossing. A selection of pictures is provided below.
Whilst a comprehensive refurbishment was undertaken during STENA NORDICA’s rebuild in Poland, making the vessel largely unrecognisable inside, it is important to note that Stena Line intends to make some further improvements ahead of the ferry’s introduction as the permanent ship on the Fishguard to Rosslare route. The company is listening to feedback from passengers and crew whilst the vessel is covering the busy Belfast to Cairnryan route, where STENA NORDICA has been operating closer to her new max passenger capacity of 630 than she will for the vast majority of sailings on the Fishguard route. This is providing valuable feedback to the company ahead of STENA NORDICA’s introduction to the Rosslare to Fishguard route during the busy summer season.
NI Ferry Site would like to thank Lawrence at Duffy Rafferty and Simon at Stena Line for their help in putting together this feature and arranging for us to visit the ship. We would also like to thank the crew of STENA NORDICA on 24 April 2023, particularly Onboard Sales and Service Manager James, for their hospitality.